[Global Times Depth] From commercial satellites to social media, Western technology companies are deeply involved in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict

  [Global Times reporter Fan Wei, Global Times correspondent in Russia Sui Xin, Global Times correspondent Song Haoning] The military conflict between Russia and Ukraine that began on February 24 was once thought to be "quick and quick". However, more than 8 months later, the conflict Still going.

In addition to the military assistance provided by Western countries to Kyiv, the deep involvement of Western technology companies has also played an unexpected but very critical role - from commercial satellites to unmanned aerial vehicles. From mobile phone apps to social media, Western tech giants and even start-ups are helping Ukraine not only keep the network running smoothly, but also help Kyiv gather intelligence, fight information warfare and psychological warfare.

The combination of emerging technologies and traditional weapons, as well as public opinion warfare, has broken the balance of power between the two sides of the conflict, making "technological geopolitics" a key word in this conflict, and this phenomenon deserves great attention.

 Working behind the scenes, participating in cyber attack and defense

  Long before the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, governments and technology companies in Western countries were working hard to strengthen Ukraine's cyber defenses and ensure the stability and smoothness of the Ukrainian Internet.

U.S. government experts traveled to Ukraine months before the conflict began, said Nakasone, head of U.S. Cyber ​​Command and director of the National Security Agency.

Microsoft and Google's collaboration with Ukraine is even earlier.

In many cases, Western tech companies, rather than Ukraine and Western governments, have taken the lead in securing all aspects of Ukraine's internet.

  The backbone of the internet, the wires, servers and other facilities that keep it running, is fragile, and several Western companies, including SpaceX, have played a vital role in maintaining Ukraine's backbone.

After the conflict broke out, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk quickly responded to the Ukrainian government's request to provide Ukraine with a network connection.

As of September, SpaceX and some countries have donated about 20,000 ground terminals with small dish antennas to Ukraine.

Microsoft provides Uzbekistan institutions with network licenses and services to move Ukrainian key software services to the cloud to ensure their continuity.

These operations allow Ukraine to smoothly conduct routine data transfers and help combatants gain access to intelligence data.

  Many analysts have predicted a large number of cyberattacks in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but so far no major incidents have occurred, largely because of the "behind the scenes" work of Western commercial companies.

Nakasone confirmed that Microsoft's Threat Intelligence Center played an important role in detecting and resolving cyberattacks against Ukraine.

Microsoft claims that Russia launched nearly 40 attacks between February 23 and April 8 alone, but Ukraine worked with Western private tech companies as well as intelligence agencies to quickly repair much of the damage.

A Microsoft executive said the company has provided Ukraine with financial and technical assistance worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Google has expanded its "Shield Project" to provide protection for more than 150 Ukrainian political organizations and news and publications.

In addition, Amazon has put some of the Ukrainian agency's web services on the Amazon cloud to protect it from attacks.

  Ukraine had called for cutting off Russia's ties with the global Internet, but some large companies rejected it. However, US-based Cogent Communications and Lumen Technologies decided to stop providing Internet backbone services to Moscow, causing major Russian telecom operators. , including the second-largest fiber-optic backbone operator TransTeleCom (TTK), have had to find alternative transport methods for their Internet traffic, which has further affected Moscow's ability to communicate and obtain intelligence in the conflict.

Endow Ukraine with space military capabilities

  In the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Western technology companies have given Ukraine space military capabilities that it did not have, and this conflict is also known as "the first space conflict involving both parties."

Optical and synthetic aperture radar high-resolution satellite imagery obtained by the Ukrainian military from Western commercial satellite companies such as Planet Labs and Maxar can provide Ukrainian intelligence support around the clock.

A large constellation of commercial remote sensing satellites with ultra-high resolution and fast revisit capabilities provide valuable target imagery every few hours.

The new technology and traditional military equipment work together to provide an important force for the Ukrainian army to fight back against the Russian army.

  In this process, SpaceX's "Starlink" satellite Internet constellation plays a prominent role.

According to a report by the Atlantic Council, a US think tank, "Starlink" provides communication support for GIS Arta, a shared data software for the Ukrainian artillery system.

The software, dubbed the "Uber for Artillery," can process data from drones, smartphones and commercial satellites to distribute firing elements among multiple artillery units to integrate strike forces.

McCord, a hedge fund manager who wrote the first artificial intelligence strategy for the U.S. Department of Defense, said that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was the first “broadband war”, and “Starlink” did not rely on small bandwidth and low-speed data transmission, but gave Ukraine Brings "incredible advantages", especially when it comes to streaming high-quality video.

  In addition to commercial satellites, artificial intelligence has also become a core element in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

Although the use of artificial intelligence technology in the war is highly controversial, American facial recognition startup Clearview AI has provided technical support to Ukraine.

Clearview AI's tools can identify faces in videos, comparing them to the company's database of 20 billion images of faces from public networks, identifying potential spies as well as people who have passed away.

This information has further played a role in Ukraine's propaganda war.

  AI has also played an important role in processing critical information in the conflict, such as a tool from the US company Primer that can perform speech recognition, transcription and translation to capture and analyze Russian information.

Conversations between several Russian soldiers who were shelled in Ukraine in March were obtained by the software and published.

These calls not only showed the panic among Russian soldiers, but also revealed their location and the direction of their subsequent retreat.

In addition, Ukrainian government departments have developed a mobile app called "Digital Enemy" that allows users to report damage from shelling or the whereabouts of Russian troops.

An encrypted chat service called Threema in Switzerland allows Ukrainian users to send this data to the military without revealing their identities.

The Ukrainian military receives thousands of such reports every day, which are then filtered by an artificial intelligence program, said former Google CEO Schmidt, who has become an artificial intelligence adviser to the U.S. government.

Strategic digital blockade of Russia

  “Previously, posting on Facebook praising neo-Nazist militias, or calling for violence against Russians, could have landed you a ban. Now, in the context of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, posting all of that has been tacitly accepted. At the same time, Russian state media accounts that once enjoyed 'freedom of speech' are blocked in Europe. These moves show that the principles of political neutrality that internet platforms should embrace are changing." A Washington Post report uncovered The inside story of how Western Internet companies helped Ukraine launch a public opinion war.

  When Russian and Ukrainian artillery shells rained down on each other's positions, another "smoke of gunpowder" was spreading online. In addition to Russia and Ukraine, there were also Western social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Google "participating in the war". , Microsoft and other technology companies.

After Western countries announced a series of severe sanctions against Russia, some network technology companies followed suit and introduced restrictions one after another - Google announced that its video website "YouTu" banned Russia Today TV (RT) and the Russian Satellite News Agency (Sputnik) Sputnik) accounts for Europe; “Yuan” company introduced similar measures to “Youtu”; Twitter tagged the source of the post as the Kremlin.

In addition, Microsoft no longer displays RT and Sputnik products and advertisements, and removes RT-related apps from its app store.

  Social media has long been a place for gathering and sharing information, as well as for spreading truth and falsehood.

The "New York Times" said that in this Internet information war, the pro-Ukraine side helped Kyiv to shape the image of a "strong survivor" by showing a large number of photos of casualties in the war, and at the same time portrayed Russia as a "ruthless aggressor". Moscow condemned.

In response, Russia has stepped up its countermeasures against Western Internet companies.

On October 11, local time, the Russian Financial Services Authority added Facebook's parent company "Yuan" to the list of terrorist and extremist organizations.

A pivotal moment in the "geopolitical history of technology"

  "They are actually 'shooting'! This is extraordinary." Matthew Schmidt, a professor of national security at the University of New Haven, accused Western technology companies of accelerating their involvement in military conflicts.

The performance of Western companies in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict shows that the degree to which private companies are involved in the military conflict is changing.

Previously, Western military-industrial enterprises have played an important role in various regional wars, such as manufacturing tanks, aircraft and weapons, but they do not often participate in battlefield operations. Now some Western technology companies have become participants in the conflict.

  The Russian-Ukrainian conflict is a pivotal moment in the history of "tech-geopolitics".

Prakash, a geopolitical scientist and co-founder of the Toronto-based consulting firm "Future Innovation Center", wrote in the American popular science magazine "Scientific People" that Western technology companies decide what capabilities to offer and what resistance they are willing to tolerate. Shape warfare and military conflict in real time.

  This has implications not only for the course of the conflict, but also for future forms of conflict.

Military expert Song Zhongping said in an interview with a reporter from the Global Times that the involvement of various Western technology companies in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict just shows that in the future military conflict, the game between countries will present a state of hybrid warfare.

This form of warfare will not only be a confrontation between the militaries and armed forces of the two countries, but also a confrontation between private technology companies, and even a confrontation between the media.

Song Zhongping believes that this trend of technology companies' involvement in conflicts will definitely strengthen. For example, hacker companies carry out commercialized cyber attacks, and Internet companies intervene to help fight public opinion wars. These will all be forms of technology companies participating in military struggles. make military conflicts more complicated.

  Military expert Zhang Xuefeng believes that the participation and influence of Western technology companies in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in a specific form is not only a new trend, but also conforms to an "old rule", that is, the most advanced technology is often used in the military field first.

For tech companies, it's lucrative.

For example, SpaceX's "Star Chain" played a prominent role in this conflict and played a good advertising effect, laying the foundation for subsequent cooperation with the U.S. military.

Although SpaceX has provided Ukraine with some free services this time, future cooperation with the U.S. military will certainly not be free.

For the military, it is possible to gain military advantage in a particular field through technology companies.

  The Russia-Ukraine conflict demonstrates the power of tech companies in military operations.

The Blair Institute for Global Change, a UK-based nonprofit, has warned that the international order will face major risks if these companies fail to become responsible players on the world stage.

Zhang Xuefeng said that many countries have also obtained intelligence by purchasing commercial satellite photos before, but most of these companies are controlled by the West, which is not good for countries in the non-Western camp.

The United States once claimed that Iran had purchased commercial satellite photos of the bases before hitting the US base in Iraq with ballistic missiles in January 2020.

Zhang Xuefeng said that from this point of view, military powers must master the autonomy of space-based reconnaissance systems in order to curb the adverse effects of the intervention of the other side's commercial satellites.

  There are also views that in the digital age, the role of public opinion warfare and cognitive warfare deserves high attention.

In this Russia-Ukraine conflict, Western technology giants such as Google are no longer "neutral" and make clear value judgments on how the government uses its platform in wartime and what type of speech violates the regulations.

Today, the international public opinion field is dominated by Western countries, which has caused Russia to find it difficult to speak out.

Song Zhongping said that it is necessary to attach great importance to the role of media platforms in the field of public opinion. Whether through state media or through self-media, it is necessary to increase the publicity of their own views and the real situation, and seize the commanding heights of public opinion.

  Source: Global Times